PAULETTE GODDARD AND HER SWISS VILLA : THE CASA MONTE TABOR

 

 

pgbiovillaaThe villa Monte Tabor, located in Porto Ronco, gets its name not only from one of the mountains in the French Alps, but also from one of the most famous mountains- referenced in the three main monotheistic religions- in Galilee, in the north of Israel

This villa, built alongside a cliff, was bought by Erich Maria Remarque in 1931 (at the suggestion of his mistress, Ruth Albu) for about 80,000 Swiss francs, a substantial amount at the time. Built during the 1900’s on rocky terrain, the villa originally belonged to artist Arnold Böcklin, and has a surface area of more than 8,900 square meters (about 96,000 square feet).
Erich Maria Remarque lived in the villa (notably with his first wife, Jutta Zambona) until 1939, before departing for the United States during the Second World War.
During that time, he offered refuge to many intellectuals fleeing Nazi Germany such as the writer Hans Sochazewer, and the journalist Felix Manual Mendelssohn (whose body was found in 1933 near the property, having undoubtedly been assassinated by the Nazis). In 1935, he met in his villa Paul Körner, Hermann Göring’s secretary of State and Deputy, who asked him to return to Germany, a request which Erich refused. He also welcomed famous actresses such as Marlène Dietrich whom he had met in Venice 1937, and with whom he had a three-year affair.After nine years of exile, Erich Maria Remarque returned to Porto Ronco in 1948. It was only at the beginning of the sixties that he took up permanent residence in the villa, returning to the United States only periodically.

pgbiovilladPaulette Goddard’s first visit took place in July 1951, after having met Erich in New York that April.
She discovered a spacious residence (over 200 square meters or 2,200 square feet) of a classic architectural style with two floors. The main floor sits slightly above the only road leading to the park and the villa; Paulette was able to access the residence’s main doorway via a small staircase.

Once inside, Paulette would find herself in a large hallway leading to the main room: a spacious living room with a large fireplace and a terrace which would have made her feel as if she were floating above the water. On beautiful days, she would have her breakfast on the terrace with her husband.
She found the living room welcoming and very well lit, with comfortable couches and armchairs, a grand library, a piano, and a large wooden bureau used by Erich for writing (including many of his novels such as Les Camarades (1937)).  Together, Paulette and Erich owned a prestigious art collection with the works of famous painters (e.g., Monet) lining the walls, antique art objects placed on the furniture, and very valuable Oriental and Persian rugs covering the floor. On the top floor, she would discover the main bedrooms, overlooking large balconies, and their bathroom; she would meet here the house staff whose rooms were located on the ground floor (which included a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom).
She immediately adored the villa’s second terrace (74 square meters or 797 square feet large) which was lined with flower pots - replaced in the sixties by forged-iron grills - and which had a panoramic view of the magnificent lake Maggiore and the Brissago Islands, and which led by a staircase to a lush garden below. In a region rich with contrasts due to a combination of mild climate and exotic vegetation at the foot of snowy mountains, Paulette marveled at the garden which, over the course of time, contained mimosas, azaleas, magnolias, jasmine, camellias, and bamboo while roses and wisteria vines adorned the walls, rocks, and fences.

In addition to her jewelry, Paulette loved flowers and taking long walks in her new garden, alone or accompanied by either Erich or one of her dogs who must, without a doubt, have gotten along with the household cats.

A car aficionado, Erich kept a garage a few meters from the villa, across the street. During the winter of 1965 a part of the property (i.e., the garage and the garden) was destroyed in an avalanche. It is fortunate that the house was spared as the couple - who traveled often throughout Europe and alternated between living in their New York and Porto Ronco apartments according to the seasons - happened to be present at the time.

pgbiovillaePaulette replaced some of her husband’s staff after his death in 1970, including hiring a new housekeeper in 1973; she did, however, keep his same chauffeur.

In the early seventies, whenever she would be at the villa, Paulette would very often begin her days by heading down a rather steep staircase towards a docking port where she would first swim, and then go for a walk with her dog. In the afternoon her chauffeur would take her to the hairdresser or to Ascona, Locarno or Italy where she would do some shopping or attend fashion shows and art exhibits. She loved music (especially classical) and going to a restaurant for lunch or dinner on Sundays (and sometimes during the week) either alone or accompanied, including by the housekeeper’s niece whose studies in biology at New York University would be paid by Paulette.
For her meals, Paulette preferred vegetables, fruits, and fish accompanied by mineral water and Italian wine, followed by small sweets and homemade desserts without forgetting, of course, a glass of champagne !
Paulette did not have much rapport with her neighbors and hosted few friends in her villa, with the notable exception of her mother, Alta.  She preferred, instead, to invite them to a restaurant or to go visit them in Milan or Zurich.

However, after a total mastectomy in 1975 with severe physical and psychological consequences she became increasingly solitary, avoiding her friends and traveling very little until her last trip to New York , in 1985.
She lived the last five years of her life in Porto Ronco, during which time she considerably limited her daily activities in the villa, accepting mainly medical and professional visits from, for example, her psychotherapist, her estate’s executor, or an appraiser from Sotheby’s or Christies to valuate her magnificent jewels .
pgbiovillabAfter a year confined to the house and under respiratory support due to her emphysema, she died of heart failure in Porto Ronco on April 23, 1990.  She is buried in a private cemetery in Ronco sopra Ascona next to Erich Maria Remarque and her mother.

The villa is bequeathed to New York University ; however, the university refused to pay the exorbitant inheritance taxes. In order to recover the taxes, the canton of Ticino decided to sell the villa at auction in 1994.
The brokerage firm Wetag Consulting was given responsibility over the sale, with assistance from Sotheby’s (who took charge of the auctioning of the furniture). The villa was first sold to the German industrialist Christoph Dornier, and then to Americans Gerald and Helen Farmer in 1999. 

The University of Osnabrück in Germany (Remarque’s birthplace) has proposed for nearly twenty years that the villa be turned into an international cultural center for peace and, thereby, become the property of the canton. However, the owners at the time (New York University) did not respond to the proposition, and neither was it a priority for the local authorities. However, some elected Ticino officials (including the mayor of Ronco sopra Ascona, Paolo Senn) are currently fighting to transform the residence into a museum.  

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In 2010, the owners wished to sell the villa (estimated to be worth 6.5 million Swiss francs). To seek funding to purchase from other government agencies, or foundations and associations hoping for public use of the villa, the Ticino State Council, the Pro Ronco Foundation and the Ronco sopra Ascona municipality have obtained to freeze the sale of the villa for one year. In order to solicit the funding, websites have been created by the Swiss Center Los Angeles as well as by the University of Osnabrück . However, these efforts have not been successful.

Early 2014, Gerald and Helen Farmer are still the owners of this legendary villa.

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